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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
(portrait by Jakob Schlesinger, 1831)

Dialectic (also dialectics; Greekδιαλεκτική (τέχνη) dialektiké (téchne) "art of conversation"; Latin(ars) dialectica "(art) of conducting conversation") was in antiquity and the Middle Ages a method of verbal argumentation in philosophical and theological disputes based on strict logic. The founder of the dialectical method is said to have been Zeno of Elea, a friend and student of Parmenides.

„One will realise the significance of this worldview, which is called the Eleatic (Parmenides and Zeno are from Elea), if one directs one's gaze to the fact that its bearers have progressed so far with the formation of thought-experience that they have fashioned this experience into a special art, the so-called dialectic. In this "art of thought" the soul learns to feel itself in its independence and inner unity. Thus the reality of the soul is felt as what it is through its own being, and as what it feels itself to be through the fact that it no longer, as in the past, lives along with the general world-experience, but unfolds in itself a life - the thought-experience - which is rooted in it, and through which it can feel itself implanted in a purely spiritual world-ground. At first this feeling does not yet find expression in a clearly expressed thought; but one can feel it alive as a feeling in this age by the esteem in which it is held. According to one of Plato's "Conversations", Parmenides told the young Socrates that he should learn the art of thought from Zeno, otherwise truth would remain distant from him. This 'art of thought' was felt to be a necessity for the human soul that wants to approach the spiritual primordial grounds of existence.“ (Lit.:GA 18, p. 57)

In the Middle Ages, together with grammar and rhetoric, dialectic formed the trivium in the canon of the Seven Liberal Arts.

From the 18th century onwards, dialectics became more and more a philosophical method of thought for finding and overcoming the opposites in things and concepts by progressing from the thesis via the antithesis to the synthesis, in which the opposites were to be cancelled out on a higher level. This method was particularly brought to fruition by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

„This movement in pure concepts is now called the "dialectical method" in the sense of the great philosopher Hegel, whereby man lives only in concepts and makes himself capable of allowing one concept to emerge from another, to grow forth, as it were. Thus man lives in a sphere in which he refrains from the outer, sensuous world, and where he refrains from that which stands behind it, from the supersensuous world. The soul moves from concept to concept, and the force that drives it away from concept to concept lets the one concept emerge from the other. This method is called the dialectical method, the method of the self-moving concept.“ (Lit.:GA 108, p. 245)

„You see, in the preparation that people used to have so that they could penetrate a little into the spiritual world in the old way, there was also a certain art. It was called dialectics. That is, one had to learn to think. Today, if you were to ask someone to learn to think first - yes, he would pull out all your hair, because everyone believes he can already think. But it is true, if you go back to earlier times, that people first had to learn a certain way of thinking. This learning to think was called dialectics. You had to think forwards and backwards, and you had to learn to place concepts in the right way.

And how was that done? It was by learning to think by speaking. I once told you that a child also learns to speak first and then to think, but of course that is childlike at first. Today man retains this childishness throughout life, but it is no longer any good for later life. If one learns to think continuously by speaking, then one gets the air in and out correctly with every exhalation and inhalation. Because speaking is connected with breathing correctly. You get the air in and out correctly. A great deal depends on one's being able to speak correctly, because this correct speaking also prepares one for correct breathing. He who can breathe properly can speak for a long time; he who cannot breathe properly soon tires when he speaks for a long time.

Through this dialectic, through this art, one has learned to speak correctly and thereby also to think correctly. Today people cannot think properly, for they are constantly bumping against their respiratory organ with their breath. Listen sometimes to any of today's scholars when they speak. Well, first of all, very few of them speak, they mostly read; there they take quite other things to help them, the eyes and so on, through this they support themselves. But listen to them when they speak: It usually seems to you as if they were short of breath and were always bumping against their own physical bodies.

This makes everything a picture of the physical body to you. Whether you have a diseased spot here in your brain and as a result your big toe becomes a mountain with all kinds of mountain spirits, or whether you are always bumping your breath while thinking and can't get it out, it doesn't matter: the whole world seems to you to be a physical thing because you are constantly bumping your breath against the physical body. Where does this materialism actually come from? Materialism comes from the fact that people cannot think properly, cannot exhale properly, that you bump into things. That's why they believe that the whole world consists only of push and pressure. Shock and pressure - that is what they have in them, because they did not prepare themselves beforehand by thinking properly. And so one could say: If someone is a materialist today, it is because he cannot get out of himself, because he is bumping against himself everywhere inwardly.“ (Lit.:GA 350, p. 192f)

See also


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
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Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
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steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
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